The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 12 - The Homecoming
Written by Deanne Bertram

Mark returned to North Fork and enjoyed supper at Lou’s with his Pa, his Ma, and Hope. They talked of how well Hope was progressing at school and quick to understand her lessons. Mark’s eyes sparkled as they talked about Hope. Then Mark told of some of the highlights of his stay in Denver, finishing with, “But boy, how I’m glad to be home. I can’t wait to see the stars tonight from the front porch.”

While waiting on dessert, Lucas asked, “So Deputy McCain, what’s the first order of business tomorrow?”

“Pa, I’ve already talked with Micah and he’s giving me a few days to adjust to being back home, so I thought after I got my chores does, that Hope and I could spend tomorrow afternoon riding.”

*****

Mark’s return was followed by the first warm spring day of the season. Mark and Hope spent the afternoon out riding the range. Along their way, they stopped to water their horses at a creek. While Hope was standing next to Mark, her horse turned its head and neck around to bite at its flank and when bringing its head back around to the front, the horse pushed her into the creek. Mark tried not to, but he couldn’t help himself as he started laughing at her. Hope turned over to sit up in the middle of the creek, her eyes flashed indignation. Mark offered her a hand to get up, instead, she pulled him in to the creek and he landed on his face beside her. Both started laughing and slashing water at each other.

When they finally stopped laughing, they helped each other up and walked to sit on the bank. Mark smiled as he stared at Hope, marveling at how long her hair had grown since that first day they had met. He pushed a strand of hair from her face. She was sitting so close.., Mark felt a warmth deep inside, he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer to him, her face was so close. He gently placed his hand on her chin and pulled her face towards his, he started to give her a playful kiss. At first, Mark sensed that Hope was tense, but soon, the desire was within her as well and she responded. His playful kiss turned passionate.

As they broke apart from their kiss, both felt a little embarrassed at the strength of their feelings. Mark lay backwards on the ground, his arms wrapped around Hope, pulling her to lie down next to him. He heard her sigh as she snuggled her head into his shoulder. Quietly, they listened to the sounds of the water gurgling along its course, the breeze blowing through new leaves on the trees, and the birds chirping above them. Both were soon lulled to sleep.

*****

That evening, Mark was sitting out on the front porch, looking out as the last rays of the sun faded from the sky. Remembering his afternoon.

“Mark, you look a thousand miles away. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you daydream like that.” Lucas said as he sat down and leaned back against a post.

“Pa, I…” Mark stopped and thought to himself, ‘How do I talk about this with my father?’ He looked through the open door to see his Ma finishing with the dishes.

“Does this have anything to do with this afternoon?” Lucas asked, thankful that his cigar could hide his grin.

“This afternoon?” Mark asked, thankful the sun had set and his Pa couldn’t see his expression. But sure his Pa heard it in his voice.

“Mark, I was riding back from town when I spotted two horses over by Miller’s Creek. I recognized Blue Boy and grew concerned. I saw you and Hope sleeping next to each other on the bank of the creek. You looked…”

“Just how did we look?” Mark asked quietly.

“Maybe you should tell me,” Lucas answered and waited.

“Pa, each time I drop Hope off at Miss Hattie’s I miss her terribly. Those two months I spent up in Denver, when I was alone in my room, it hurt just thinking about her. What was she doing? Did she miss me? Pa, when we were riding today, I saw a vision of my life and Hope was there.”

Mark stopped talking as he watched a shooting star streak across the sky. “I missed seeing the stars up in the sky while I was in Denver. I missed you and Ma, but more so, I missed Hope.

“Pa, we stopped to water the horses and Hope’s horse pushed her into the creek and I tried to give her a hand to help her get to her feet and she pulled me into the water next to her. When we finally stopped laughing, we walked to the bank and sat down next to each other. Pa, she…”

Lucas waited.

“Pa, I kissed her and not on the cheek. Gently at first, but then something inside me… I pulled her closer and… Pa, I’ve never felt that way before. I just wanted her, the kiss became something more... It’s hard to describe… I know Hope felt the same way. We were there, in each other’s arms and nothing else existed, nothing else mattered. We parted and I looked into her eyes and… It hurt, here.” Mark pointed to his heart. “I didn’t want to let the moment to end. I just laid back and pulled her close to me and held her in my arms. I don’t know how long we laid there before we fell asleep.”

Lucas smiled as he asked, “Does this mean we need to have another Father/Son talk?”

“Is this what love feels like?” Mark asked as he looked to his Pa.

“It can, in the best of times.”

“Pa, I know we’re only seventeen, but… How do I go about getting permission from Hope’s family?”

“Permission?” Milly asked as she walked to the porch to sit down next to her husband.

“I want to court Hope. I want everyone to know. Someday, I want to make her my wife.”

“Mark as you said, you’re both seventeen.”

“I know Pa, but asking permission to court doesn’t mean I’m going to ask Hope to marry me next month, like someone did,” Mark grinned and ducked as Milly threw a towel towards her son.

“Mark McCain, I have every mind of bending you over my knee and tanning those britches of yours!” Milly declared.

“Ma’am, that would be assaulting a law officer and I could put you in jail for that.” Mark rebuked.

“I’m your mother and I have the right!”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Mark stated as he looked to his Pa for help.

“Don’t look at me deputy, I’m just an ordinary citizen, trying to live the good life and protect what’s mine.”

“Oh, Pa, but I’m your son?”

“Yeah, but she can lock me out of the bedroom.”

Together the three laughed.

That night, after Lucas and Milly had retired; Mark pulled out a tablet of paper and wrote a letter. The following day he posted it to the mail.

*****

One night, Hattie noticed how quiet Hope had gotten recently.

“Child you seem rather quiet of late. Is there anything wrong?”

“Miss Hattie?” Hope asked as she slipped into bed.

“Yes Hope.”

“Can we talk?” Tears were welling in her eyes.

“Oh Hope, yes. What’s wrong?”

“Miss Hattie, I think I did something wrong.”

“Wrong? Child, what gave you that idea?”

“Mark’s been avoiding me for the past week. I…”

“Hope, its springtime, there’s lots of work to be done on all the ranches. Plus Mark’s been working for Micah,” Hattie stated.

“Miss Hattie, he could come see me before he works for Micah or even after, but he doesn’t.”

“Why do you think you did something wrong?”

“After Mark returned, we went riding.”

“Nothing wrong with that child.”

“I know, but while we were watering the horses, mine pushed me into the creek and, well, Mark laughed at me. I got so mad that when he offered to help me up, I pulled him into the creek as well. We laughed about it, but… afterwards, we were sitting on the bank… he kissed me. Oh, Miss Hattie it felt so wonderful and I enjoyed it and I kissed him back. We laid back in each other’s arms and fell asleep. Now, I see him riding past the school or through town and he doesn’t stop. Oh Miss Hattie, was I so wrong to enjoy the kiss?”

“Oh child.” Miss Hattie pulled Hope into her arms. “I’m sure Mark’s just as confused about what happened as you are. Give him time to sort through his feelings and I’m sure he’ll be back by your side.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Honey, there’s no way that boy wouldn’t come back to you. You know, he’s never told me how the two of you met. But that first day I came back to North Fork, he told me he wanted me to love you for who you are, not your past. I’ve come to love you like a granddaughter, just as I love him like a grandson. Give him time.” Hattie pulled the covers up, over Hope, turned and blew out the lantern, and started to leave the room.

“Miss Hattie, Mark told me once that you were the best Grandma, I agree,” Hope stated as she curled up and went to sleep.

Hattie left the room and closed the door, a smile on her face.

*****

Three days later, Mark returned to town for his duty at the Marshal’s office. As he arrived, Miss Hattie met him at the door.

“Mark, a moment please?”

“Miss Hattie, for you, anytime.” Mark opened the door and allowed Miss Hattie to enter before him.

“Mark, I know you’re a good boy and you wouldn’t deliberately hurt anyone.”

“Miss Hattie, what are you talking about?” Mark inquired.

“Mark, I’m talking about Hope. She thinks she’s done something wrong and you’re avoiding her. I told her non-sense, you were just real busy with it being springtime at the ranch and working as a deputy. But she said, even when you were in town, you didn’t stop before or afterwards to say hello…

“Mark, she told me what happened out at Miller’s Creek.”

“Miss Hattie,” Mark started. “I can’t see her just yet. I… I have to wait. I know I shouldn’t have kissed her like that, but Miss Hattie, I love her and I don’t want to disrespect her. I need to wait until I hear back from her father. Miss Hattie, I asked for his blessing to court her.”

“Mark McCain, you’re seventeen!”

“I know, but I also know that someday, I want to make Hope my wife and I want to do it proper. You know that you always told Pa to make sure I grew up to be a gentleman.”

“Mark…”

Giving Hattie a kiss on the cheek, Mark asked, “Miss Hattie, please keep it a secret. Please?”

Hattie nodded.

*****

It was the morning after another quiet evening in North Fork.

“Johnny, you think your reputation as a gun fighter keeps the outlaws away?”

“Some. But I’m sure not always. Someday, my reputation won’t matter anymore and I hope that the three of us can keep North Fork the quiet town I love living in.”

As Mark walked to the livery to get Blue Boy and head for home, Amos came running up to him.

“Mark…, Mark, I got a wire for you.”

Mark opened the envelope that Amos handed to him.

Mark McCain

North Fork, New Mexico Territory

YES /stop/

God Bless You /stop/

Seth & Ethan Lane

Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Mark read the note again and ran to the schoolhouse. He arrived just as Mr. Griswald closed the doors. He opened the doors and entered.

“Deputy McCain, is something wrong?”

“No sir! I just need to see Hope for a minute. Please?” Mark asked, out of breath.

“Miss Lane, please see to Deputy McCain.”

Hope stood and walked to the back of the schoolroom. Mark closed the doors behind them. He placed his hand at the small of Hope’s back and escorted her to sit down on the bench out front.

“Hope? Miss Hattie came to see me yesterday. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I never meant to. It’s just that I care so much about you and I wanted to make sure I did everything proper.”

“Proper?”

“Hope, I sent a letter to your Pa and I had to wait until I heard back. I got a wire from him this morning.” Mark pulled out the wire and showed it to Hope.

“I don’t understand.”

“Hope, it’s not just that I care for you, but I truly know that I love you. I asked your father if he would give me permission to court you.”

“Court me?” Hope asked.

“Hope, courting you means to let everyone know that we love each other. And I think you feel the same way and maybe, maybe when were older, Hope… for some time I’ve had a dream at night and in my dream, you’re my wife. Hope, I want that dream to come true.

Hope squealed as she wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck.

Just then, Mr. Griswald opened the door, “Deputy McCain, if my student may return to her seat?”

“Yes Mr. Griswald. Just a moment.” Then turning to Hope. “Hope, I want to make this official. This Friday, you’ll come to the ranch for dinner, and we’ll let the whole world know, well, at least North Fork.”

Hope nodded.

Mark helped Hope to her feet and watched as she walked up the steps of the school. She stopped at the door and looked back, she smiled.

*****

As requested by Mark, Milly brought Hope to the ranch when she returned from school Friday night. They arrived to find Mark was just taking dinner up from the stove, and surprisingly, it smelled good. Lucas returned from working out on the ranch, just after Hope and Milly. All three stood still, a little unprepared for the sight that greeted them.

The table was already set, and a candle stood in the middle.

“Pa, if you’ll wash up, dinner’s ready.” Mark stated as he set the last of the serving dishes on the table.

Throughout dinner, neither Milly nor Lucas could get over this latest domesticity of Mark. They also wondered about the look in his and Hope’s eyes. Hope and Mark offered to do dishes while Milly started to work on her embroidery and Lucas read, aloud, from the bible. Mark walked Hope to the front room, stood behind her, and put his arms around her waist.

“Pa? Ma?” Mark asked. “I guess you’re wondering tonight.”

Both nodded.

“Well, I just wanted to make tonight special. Almost two weeks ago, I wrote Hope’s family a letter and a couple of days ago, I got a reply.”

“A letter Mark?” Milly asked.

“You both know how I feel about Hope and I asked her family if I could have permission to court her. They said yes. I wanted you two to be the first to know that I really do intend, someday, to make Hope my wife. I want to yell to the whole world, how I feel about Hope. More important, Pa, you raised me to be a gentleman and I wanted to make sure I did this right. So with your blessings, I’d like to make it official.”

It was a family, group hug as Milly and Lucas pulled Mark and Hope into their embrace.

Afterwards, Mark drove Hope back to North Fork and to Miss Hattie’s. She yelled, “Land’s sake,” as Hope told her the news. She pulled both into a hug.

“Now Mark, you get on back home. There are proprieties that must be observed and its well past the time for Hope to be in bed.” Hattie escorted Hope inside and shut the door.

*****

Mark returned home to find his Ma already retired for the night. Lucas sat on the porch, finishing his cigar. He watched as Mark exited the barn from tending to Blue Boy. He patted the porch next to where he sat, indicating he wanted Mark to sit a spell.

“Mark, I’m happy for you and Hope and I knew this day would eventually come. But Mark, you’re only seventeen. How can you be so sure it is Hope you wish to spend the rest of your life with?”

“Pa, I told you about a dream I had last year. Well, I realized that Milly was my Ma, in that dream and now you two are married. The more time I spend with Hope, the more I realize that she’s the woman I marry. Pa, I feel complete when I’m with Hope. Especially, when I think back to the day after my return from Denver, Pa my feelings, I know they’re not wrong.”

“Mark, promise me that you’ll wait until you are at least eighteen before you get married,” Lucas asked, yet he laughed.

“Pa? What’s so funny?”

“Mark, remember the first time that you and Hope said goodbye to Seth and Ethan, after Micah and I had been ‘resurrected’?”

Mark nodded.

“Well, that day, Micah told me to ‘Mark his words, that one or both of us would be married within a year’. Well, I’ve already fulfilled Micah’s prophecy; let’s not give him the satisfaction of knowing he was right about both of us. Okay?”

“Sure Pa. By the way, Pa?” Mark asked, unsure of what he was about to say. “Don’t you think it’s a little past your bedtime?” He quickly rose and ran into the house, before Lucas could react.

The Next Step — Summertime

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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